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North America Energy CFOs Predict Capex Higher, Sales Not so Much

Financial chiefs of some of the largest North American energy companies are less optimistic about earnings growth for 2014, but they expect to direct more to capital spending, a Deloitte survey has found.

The consulting firm questioned during the first three months of the year more than 109 CFOs for some of North America's largest companies, with most in the United States (69.4%), followed by Canada (21.3%) and Mexico (9.3%). No company names were revealed, but 13 were energy industry CFOs.

The energy sector financial gurus said they expect 2014 to be the second-lowest for sales growth and domestic personnel growth of any other industry. Over the past few years, however, capital expenditures (capex) has been high because drilling in unconventional basins and the deepwater is more expensive than conventional exploration.

Earnings growth for the energy sector was pegged to be about 4.1% higher than in 2013, but that increase is lower than any other sector reporting. Expected sales growth was forecast at 1.9% higher year/year, the survey's second worst.

Energy industry payrolls also are seen falling a bit, by about 0.3% in the United States, while most CFOs said they expect to add staff.

The sector's financial chiefs are seeing more growth in capex this year, with the energy CFOs forecasting it to be up by about 2.7% from 2013.

A recent report by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies found that producer spending continues to be huge, with unconventional gas and oil spending rising to more than $80 billion in 2013 from $5 billion in 2006 (see Shale Daily, March 27). Researchers concluded that exploitation has to be viable commercially for "rational" investors to keep funding activities.

The Deloitte survey found that across the sectors, the 1Q2014 "bump" in optimism for earnings, hiring and spending was the lowest it's been in its four-year history. Near-term growth expectations are weak with "rising signs of conservatism and tentativeness."

If this quarter is the high-point, it doesn’t bode well for the remaining quarters of the year,” said the survey director Greg Dickinson.

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